In its editorial (“Voter referenda present mixed choices,” Oct. 29), Providence Business News argued that, given Rhode Island’s structural budget deficit, the state cannot afford all the bond issues on the ballot “without compelling evidence of positive long-term economic benefits.”
We agree that voters need to look very carefully at long-term economic benefits. We strongly disagree, however, with PBN’s conclusion that voters should reject Question 6 – Environmental Management Bonds – and with PBN’s characterization of Question 6 as simply providing “access to undeveloped land.”
“Access to undeveloped land” does not accurately describe what approval of Question 6 would mean to Rhode Island and its residents. Question 6 is intended to protect the working farmland and water quality needed by our agricultural and fishing industries, and expand and improve the natural attractions and park facilities that attract visitors to our state. It will, in fact, have positive long-term economic benefits.
Here, specifically, is where the $20 million in bond issues authorized in Question 6 would go:
• $4.5 million to fund the state program that permanently protects productive farmland.
• $4 million to protect our rivers, streams and Narragansett Bay from polluted stormwater and to restore freshwater and marine habitats.
• $2.5 million for state land acquisition for beaches and shoreline areas that provide public access to the bay and for state park land and another $2.5 million for matching grants for community-based land-conservation efforts.
• $5.5 million to help municipalities acquire and develop parks, playgrounds, ball fields and other active recreation facilities, and another $1 million to restore historic parks.
What specific long-term economic benefits would these public investments have? They would ensure that our agricultural industry ($170 million in sales and growing) will continue to have the land essential for farming.